(Photo Montage by Gerald Slota)
By Ruben Castaneda
Sunday, December 30, 2007

I should've turned and walked away when Carrie didn't answer the door. But I was on a mission, and my judgment at the time was less than sound.

Carrie was a lithe, blond Arkansan with a sweet demeanor and prom-queen looks. Instead of her, I was greeted by a large man wearing a dirty white T-shirt and bluejeans. He had a wild, uncombed Afro.

"What you want?" His eyes were bloodshot. His expression was suspicious. He was north of 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds.

I checked the number on the door. The building was on Ninth Street NW, in the Shaw neighborhood. Carrie had said she'd be in unit No. 32 -- the same number I was looking at. "Maybe I've got the wrong place," I recall replying. "I'm looking for Carrie."

The man's expression softened. "Oh, you a friend of Carrie's? Awright then. She's inside, in the bathroom. She'll be out in a minute. Come on in."

He stepped aside and waved his arm like a car salesman inviting a mark into the showroom. The apartment appeared empty, save for a desk against the near wall and a worn sofa in the living area. His invitation hung in the air like gun smoke. A distant voice in my consciousness advised me to retreat. On the other hand, his explanation was plausible. And it was two days before Thanksgiving 1991. A little celebration was in order.

I took a step forward.

With stunning quickness, the man grabbed me by my shirt collar, yanked me inside the apartment and slammed the door shut. Before I could react, he gripped me by both shoulders, seizing the epaulets on my trench coat, and pinned me against the door. He called out a man's name. An older, reed-thin guy emerged from behind the sofa.

Keeping his hands on me, the big man looked over his shoulder and cried out: "Get the thing! Get the thing!"

The thing -- a gun or a knife.

A gun would be quick. A knife could be torturous.

"You don't have to do this," I offered.

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